Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).

Flowery Friday, April blog fun – and a Book review: Mother Earth News Almanac.

April is here!  That means we might just get a bit of rain in Calgary…and maybe some cherry blossoms (if they don’t freeze off).  And tulips (if the rabbits and deer don’t eat them first).  Clearly, a month of “if’s”….

Typical spring.  😉

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My favourite furry flower, Pulsatilla patens – Nose Hill, Calgary, 28 March 2016

I spent the month of March doing more researching and querying than actual writing, and while I was busy with that, my e-mails collectively undertook a massive construction project that is now approaching monument status…we’re talking the Egyptian pyramids or something of that ilk. So I maybe need to do something about that this upcoming week. Ahem.

And I’ve been spring cleaning and organizing!  I mean, moving files and piles around.  No, seriously, I’m actually making a tiny dent, even though it might be NEXT spring when I see truly decent results.  But just the small amount I’ve done so far is refreshing.

Speaking of files, here are a few interesting things I came across this past month:

  • A snowy owl speculates on landing a coveted modelling gig – yep, you read that right.  Go here.  You’ll love the rest of Lyle Krahn’s blog, too – nothing better than fantastic wildlife photos combined with a wonderful sense of humour!
  • A profile of the life and work of Felicitas Svejda, the geneticist responsible for the breeding of the hardy Explorer roses.  Canadians who grow roses owe much to her dedication and passion for plants that could survive our crazy winters and short growing season.
  • Photographer Beth Moon’s portraits of the world’s most ancient trees are absolutely incredible.  Head over to the gallery and enjoy.
  • Take a look at  some samples from Saxon Holt’s fledgling Photo Florilegium project.

I’ve been posting some items elsewhere:

Finally, this was a really fun book to read for review – I started out randomly flipping through the pages but then had to chow down on it cover-to-cover.  Now, ask me something….

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Mother Earth News Almanac:  A Guide Through the Seasons (2016, Voyageur Press, Minneapolis) 

Whether you’re a modern homesteader or an urban DIY-er, you’ll find a useful tip or hundreds in the Mother Earth News Almanac (2016).  Want to know something about natural pest control?  How to build a stove out of an aluminium can?  Need recipes for popcorn balls or cherry preserves or tips on how to sour cream or sprout seeds for eating?  What about sinking fence posts or cobbling together a working substitute for a broken cotter pin?  Whether it’s raising livestock (or cats), making crafts, foraging for wild foods, or constructing, you name the topic – you’ll probably find something new and interesting about it in this book.  The entries are concise and informative, divided into categories based upon the seasons of the year, and the book is illustrated throughout with black ink line drawings, diagrams, and tables.  Fascinating and practical lifestyle hacks for everyone!

(* Many thanks to Voyageur Press for providing a copy of this title for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinion, which is my own).

 

What are you most looking forward to this month?

Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Gardening books for children.

I recently wrote an article about gardening with children and I couldn’t help myself, I had to add in a bit about reading and books. The two activities truly go hand-in-hand!

The community garden I have a membership with has worked for many years in conjunction with the nearby library branch (that I just so happen to be employed at) to hold story time programs in the summer months. One of the library assistants takes a bunch of books out to the garden on a mid-week morning and children from all over the community and beyond gather with their parents and other family members to listen. Needless to say, it is a very well-received program!

Alberta-based writer/speaker/blogger April Demes published a fantastic post last spring about her favourite gardening books for children – you can check it out here. I have a few other titles to add:

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April Pulley Sayre – Rah, Rah, Radishes!  (I previously mentioned it here).

and Go, Go, Grapes!

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Fresh veggies and fruit have never been so much fun. I love the illustrations, too – they’re bold and bright and eye-catching.

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Stefan Page – We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market

This board book for the very young is the perfect introduction to an outing at the market and all the delicious produce you can find there.

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Kadir Nelson – If You Plant a Seed

There aren’t many words in this book, but they’re chosen with a powerful message in mind. This is less a book about gardening than it is about consideration and kindness. Nelson’s paintings are absolutely incredible – a real must-see.

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Julie Fogliano – And Then It’s Spring

Sweet, soft, and inviting.  Like spring should be, but often isn’t.  😉

 

Elly Mackay – If You Hold a Seed

A beautiful story about a boy and a tree as they grow up together. Dream big!

Watch Mackay’s fascinating process for creating her papercut illustrations here.

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Kevin Sheehan – The Dandelion’s Tale

One of my favourite children’s picture books in recent years. (I previously mentioned it on my other blog The Door is Ajar -click here).

 

What are your favourite gardening or garden-related books for children?

Go-to gardening books for the Prairies (and beyond!)

Wow!  It feels like spring has sprung here today!  What little snow we had is melting like crazy and we actually had a bit of rain early this morning.  My co-workers and I spent our coffee break talking about starting some tomato seeds and maybe we were a little sugar-buzzed from the pre-Valentine’s Day chocolates and too much coffee, but things got really cheerful…yeah, we’re definitely excited and inspired.  😉

We still have about two (conservative estimate) or three (more like it) months to go before we can get out into the garden proper, but it’s nice to haul out the gardening books and catalogues and get cracking on the planning. I have a few gardening books in my personal collection and regulars I borrow from the library that are definite go-to’s for me.  For the most part, these are all “Prairie” books (hardiness zones 2-4; cold, arid climate), but there are a few more generally Canadian and North American ones that I really love as well.

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Lyndon Penner – The Chinook Short Season Yard: Quick and Beautiful in the Calgary Region (also available as The Prairie Short Season Yard)

Lydon Penner – Garden Design for the Short Season Yard

Dawn Vaessen – Perfect Perennials for the Prairie Gardener (See my review here)

Donna Balzar – Gardening for Goofs

Donna Balzar and Steven Biggs – No Guff Vegetable Gardening

June Flanagan – Native Plants for Prairie Gardens

June Flanagan – Edible Plants for Prairie Gardens

Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner – Gardening, Naturally: A Chemical Free Handbook for the Prairies

Sara Williams – Creating the Prairie Xeriscape

Calgary Horticultural Society – Calgary Gardener, Volumes 1 and 2

Calgary Rose Society – Growing Roses in Calgary  (See my review here)

Millarville Horticultural Society – Gardening Under the Arch

Hugh Skinner – The Best Groundcovers and Vines for the Prairies

Hugh Skinner – The Best Trees and Shrubs for the Prairies

Don Williamson – Tree and Shrub Gardening for Alberta (See my review here)

Barbara Kim and Nora Bryan – The Prairie Winterscape

Nora Bryan and Ruth Staal – The Prairie Gardener’s Book of Bugs (Mentioned here)

Jan Mather – Designing Alberta Gardens

Any of The Prairie Garden annuals

Linda Chalker-Scott – The Informed Gardener

Linda Chalker-Scott – How Plants Work

Niki Jabbour – The Year ‘Round Vegetable Gardener

Niki Jabbour – Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Bill Thorness – Cool Season Gardener

Laura Peters – Small Space Gardening for Canada

Melanie J. Watts – Growing Food in a Short Season

David Bainbridge – Gardening with Less Water

 

Did I miss any cold climate/Prairie books that should be on this list?

No matter where you live in the world, your favourite gardening books might be relevant/practical/inspirational/eye candy for another gardener!  Which books would you recommend for us?  

 

 

Fairy Gardening Books – Giveaway Winners!

Drumroll, please…it’s time to announce the winners of my Fairy Gardening Books Giveaway! 

Without further ado…

Fairy Gardening 101 goes to Alys of Gardening Nirvana!

AND

Laurie from Notes from the Hinterland has won Fairy Gardening!

Congratulations to you both!  I hope you enjoy the books!  Thank you to everyone for entering!

Alys and Laurie, please let me know your mailing address via the “Contact Me” form on my blog (in the drop down menu below “About Me”), and I’ll get your books out to you in the next couple of days.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!  Happy gardening!

August 3, 2015 Begoniaresize

Fairy Gardening Book Reviews – and a Giveaway!

I’m reviewing a couple of really fun gardening books today!

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Fairy Gardening 101: How to Design, Plant, Grow, and Create Over 25 Miniature Gardens – Fiona McDonald (2014, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Need some ideas to get you started on making your very own fairy garden?  Or maybe you’re already well-experienced in the art of designing fairy gardens and you’re looking for some new inspiration – either way, Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101 is for you!

This purposeful how-to book gives you all the information you need to create a fairy garden, with lists of supplies, suggestions for interesting containers or settings, and tips for successful long-term maintenance of your beautiful creation.  Easy to follow, step-by-step instructions cover the making of miniature furniture, fences and other garden structures – and, of course, even the fairies themselves! What I’ve always loved about fairy gardens is the use of recycled/upcycled materials and found objects (either natural or man-made) that you discover in your home, yard, neighbourhood…or garage or thrift sale!  The sky truly is the limit when it comes to sourcing materials for your mini-garden – and that’s half the fun!

Putting it all together is where you can really let your artistic side shine, and McDonald offers twenty-five whimsical, artistic designs guaranteed to delight:  you’ll find everything from hanging gardens to ferneries and terrariums, even a Mexican garden!

One of my favourite chapters in the book covers “Wild Fairy Gardens,” where an old tree stump is converted into a castle – so fun!  I am also pleased to see that McDonald covers how to grow and/or sustainably source mosses for use in the gardens.  This is truly an inventive and enjoyable book!

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Fairy Gardening:  Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden – Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner (2013, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner’s beautiful book Fairy Gardening doesn’t delve into specific fairy garden designs such as the ones you’ll find in Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101, but it is more detailed in all of the crafting aspects needed to make your own amazing fairy gardens.  One of the most charming reasons to create a fairy garden is the way you can tell a story with your living work, and Bawden-Davis and Turner cover everything from developing a theme to establishing a focal point, developing your story, and creating a sense of movement, all discussed in accessible, practical terms, with tips and suggestions to apply these ideas to your own gardens.  Additional chapters include comprehensive information about choosing containers for your garden, and selecting the perfect plants to grow.  Delightful photographs and a friendly, approachable writing style make this book a joy to read – and a wealth of inspiration for creating your very own fairy garden!

(The publisher generously provided copies of Fairy Gardening 101 and Fairy Gardening for me to review, but I was not compensated for my opinion).

I have one copy of each book to give away!  If you’re interested, please leave me a comment below – you can tell me what kind of fairy garden you’d like to create (or have created!), or just drop me a “count me in,” or “yes,” for your chance to win.  If you have a preference for one book over the other, please let me know that, too, and I’ll try to accommodate if you win.  Contest closes at midnight, MST, on Friday, August 28, 2015. (And yes, it is open to everyone!).  I will announce the two lucky winners on Monday, August 31, 2015.